Lets consider a second powerful example of that process at work: Machinima. Its name a hybrid of machine and cinema, Machinima refers to 3-D digital animation created in real time using game engines. The Machinima movement started in 1993 when Doom was released with a program that supported the recording and playback of in-game actions. The idea was that people might want to watch their own game play experiences as mini action movies. There is little evidence that this controversial first-person shooter generated school shooters, but theres plenty of evidence that it inspired a generation of animators.
Subsequent games offered ever more sophisticated tools that allowed players to create their own digital assets, or put their own skins over the characters and features of the game world. Soon, people were playing the games with an eye toward recording the actions they wanted for their movies and even redesigning the games to create the characters and settings they needed to stage their own stories. These game engines would allow artists to dramatically lower the costs and decrease the production time of digital animation. Picture complex animation with the spontaneity of improvisational performance!
Right now, most Machinima films remain deeply rooted in gamer cultureMy Trip to Liberty City is a travelogue of the world represented in Grand Theft Auto 3; Halo Boys involves boy bands in the Halo universe; someone restaged classic moments from Monty Python and the Holy Grail using the online role-playing game Dark Ages of Camelot.
Some people have taken up the technical challenge of reproducing classic action filmseverything from The Matrix to the Omaha Beach sequence in Saving Private Ryan. More political filmmakers have taken this further, using game engines to comment on the war on terrorism or to restage the siege of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Yet some Machinima artists are pushing this mode of production in surprising directions: Hugh Hancock and Gordon McDonalds Ozymandias adopts a poem by Percy Shelley and Fountainheads Anna depicts the life story of a flower. As with Pixelvision, the Machinima movement has launched its own Web community, critics, training programs, and film festivals.
If Pixelvision has been embraced by the art world, Machinimas greatest impact so far has been on the commercial culture. The History Channel, for example, has launched a successful series, Decisive Battles, which restages events like the Battle of Marathon using Creative Assemblys Rome: Total War as its basic animation tool. MTV 2s Video Mods program features music videos by groups like Black Eyed Peas and Fountains of Wayne which are produced using look-alike skins of the performers inserted in the worlds of games as diverse as Tomb Raider, Leisure Suit Larry, The Sims 2, and SSX3.
Pixelvision was largely abandoned by Fisher-Price. But Machinimaand game mods more generallyhave been embraced by the games industry. In fact, game makers monitor and promote this experimentation in the hope of generating new content that will extend the value of their franchises and of identifying new talent that they can hire for their companies. Lionheads new release, The Movies, takes the Machinima movement a step further: the game allows you to run your own studio, produce your own movies using its characters and backlots, and then share them online with your friends.
When the Web first emerged, there was enormous excitement about what would happen when we unleashed the latent creative potential of grassroots communities. Many have dismissed such claims, arguing that there is little to show for the first decade of digital culture. Yet, with Pixelvision and Machinima, we can point to new modes of expression that have risen to the surface as amateur artists have taken advantage of cheap production tools and pushed them in unanticipated directions. It takes time for communities to form, for experiments to occur, and for people to consolidate those innovations into more mature and accomplished works.